A popular item dancers of late 1940s and 1950s, Cuckoo continues the item dance culture of Indian cinema. The next popular dancer and item girl of Indian cinema, Cuckoo, was greatly inspired by her senior, Azurie (Azurie profile in iMujra). She even modeled herself after Azurie and became quite successful in continuing the vamp image in films. In 1949 alone she had danced in over 17 films.
She is often credited for being the first of the well known dancing actress of Indian Cinema. She is also credited for the popularity of ‘cabaret’ dance in Indian films. ‘Cabaret’ dance became integral part of Hindi films made between 1950s and 1970s.
When Cuckoo started dancing in films, the leading actresses wouldn’t consider dancing or playing a seducing role. They need dancers who are willing to wriggle their hips and bodies and show more flesh than a little bit of leg and shoulders. Cuckoo first time appeared in films ‘Pahili Nazar’ and ‘Mujrim’. She is credited by the nickname Cuckoo and her real name is little known.
In her career time Cuckoo danced in 49 different films. In most of these films Cuckoo was featured in one or a few dances.
Cuckoo’s dance number in Mehboob Khan’s film ‘Anokhi Ada’ (1948) established her as the dancing queen in Indian cinema. In another romantic film ‘Andaz’ Cuckoo had also shown her dancing skills and acting skills with the top class actors like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Nargis.
In the early 1950s, Cuckoo introduced a girl of Burmese-Anglo origin, Helen, as a chorus girl. At that time Helen was only 13-years old girl. Helen later gained a lot of popularity and dancing skills to became a bigger sensation who can be said to be one of the dancers who displaced Cuckoo from the film industry.
Cuckoo’s dancing career extends for a decade. In the last few years, she also danced as a part of the chorus.
Cuckoo’s real name was a mystery as she was never credited by full name. Her real name is told to be "Cuckoo Moray" but there is no official confirmation of the name.
Extravagant life and miserable end
Cuckoo lived a life impressively and spent extravagantly during her youth. But, in the later part of her life she was broke and penniless. She used to have three cars in 1950s India – one for dogs, one of herself and another to be used for guests. Her flat and jewelers were taken away by the government for evasion of tax.
Cuckoo died of cancer at the age of 52. The death was slow, she could barely afford to buy painkillers during her last days, and reportedly died unattended. Although some artists helped her financially in her last days, it was never enough.
Talking about the last days of Cuckoo, Helen once said that she never thought of the security of the future. Helen said, Cuckoo was a tremendous lady and was strong and fighting even when she couldn’t get any roles and she lost all her money.
- Cuckoo was born in February 7, 1928
- She died on September 30, 1981 at the age of 53.
- There is no evidence that she got married ever or has a family. There are unconfirmed reports that she might have married choreographer KS Moray.
- Cuckoo was also known as ‘rubber girl’ and she is credited to make ‘cabaret’ dance popular in Indian cinema.
- She was known as Cuckoo all her life. Although her full name is told to be either Cuckoo Moray or Cuckoo More, there is no official confirmation to the name.
- A brief cameo in Mehboob Khan’s 1952 film ‘Aan’ is the only color film Cuckoo is seen in.
- Cuckoo was a family friend of Helen. She introduced 13-years old Helen in 1951 films ‘Shabistan’ and ‘Awaara’ as a chorus dancer.
- Cuckoo and Helen danced together in 1958 films ‘Chalti Ka naam Gaadi’ and ‘Yahudi’.
- The last film of Cuckoo was 1963 film ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’.
Cuckoo had danced in a lot of films in 1940s, 1950s and some in 1960s. In most of the movies she was only the dancer – usually the seductive ones with lot of suggestive moves and skin shows. The following list gives the year and the names of the movies released that year with Cuckoo in them.
- 1964 – Shabnam
- 1963 – Mujhe Jeene Do
- 1961 – Piya Milan Ki Aas, Warrant
- 1960 – Basant, Delhi Junction, Gambler, Mehlon Ke Khwab, Mohabbat Ki Jeet, Shravan Kumar
- 1959 – Bus Conductor, Forty Days, Guest House , Heera Moti, Maa Ke Aansoo
- 1958 – Aji Bas Shukriya, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Hathkadi, Khota Paisa, Phagun, Sachche Ka Bol Bala, Samrat Chandragupt, Son of Sinbad ,Trolley Driver , Yahudi
- 1957 – Ustad
- 1956 – 26 January , Karwan , Kismet , Sipahsalar
- 1955 – Bira-Dari, Mr. & Mrs. ’55
- 1954 – Chor Bazaar, Daku Ki Ladki , Lakeeren, Mayurpankh, Pensioner, Prisoner Of Golconda, Ramman , Shaheed-E-Azad Bhagat Singh, Sheeshe Ki Diwar ,Watan
- 1953 – Char Chand , Dhoon, Ek-Do-Teen, Gauhar, Hazaar Raaten, Rail Ka Dibba, Shahenshah
- 1952 – Aan, Ajeeb Ladki, Amber, Chamkee, Hangama, Insaan, Khana Badosh, Nirmal, Sapna, Saqi, Sheesha, Shisham
- 1951 – Afsana, Awaara, Bedardi, Buzdil, Damad , Hulchul, Humlog, ohari, Kali Ghata, Khazana, Mukhda, Naujawan, Nazneen, Pyar Ki Baaten, Sabz Bagh, Sagai, Saiyan, Sarkar, Shabistan, Stage
- 1950 – Aadhi Raat, Aahuti, Aankhen, Achchaji , Apni Chhaya, Arzoo, Bawre Nain, Bebus, Bhai Bahen, Chor, Dilruba, Gulnar, Hamari Beti, Khiladi, Mashaal, Meharbani, Nai Bhabhi, Nili, Nishana, Pagle, Pardes, Putli, Raj Rani, Sabak, Sachcha Pyaar, Sartaj, Saudamini, Shaan, Surajmukhi
- 1949 – Andaz, Barsaat, Bazaar , Chaar Din, Chakori, Chandni Raat, Dada, Ek Teri Nishani, Imtihan, Kaneez, Lekh, Lottery, Mundri, Namoona, Paras, Patanga, Roomal, Sati Ahilya, Shabnam, Shair, Singaar
- 1948 – Anokhi, Birhan, Chunaria, Didi, Dukhiyari, Kajal, Patjhad, Payal, Sati Vijaya, Shakti, Vidya
- 1947 – Arsi, Mirza Sahiban, Sarai Ke Bahar, Shahkar
- 1946 – Arab Ka Sitara, Circus King, Hum Ek Hain, Sona Chandi
- 1945 – Meghdoot, Man Ki Jeet, Pehali Nazar, Zeenat
- 1944 – Mujrim
- 1943 – Prithvi Vallabh
Cuckoo in 1949 film ‘Andaz’ with actress Nargis
Cuckoo in 1951 film ‘Sagai’
NOTE: This post is a part of iMujra “What is an Item Number?” series. In this series we are covering the definition of item number in Indian cinema and dive into the history of item numbers. This post, a profile of an item girl, Cuckoo, is meant to be a part of the second part in the series – “History of Item Number in Bollywood” (to be published soon).
History of Item Number in Bollywood
Early item numbers – 1930s to 1960s
Cuckoo, cabaret dancer item girl in Indian cinema
Mujra and Item numbers – 1970s to 1990s
Modern item numbers – 2000s